A highlight of each year’s advisory council meeting is reviewing the state of the industry from the meeting planners’ perspectives. For the hotel company representatives, this offers insight into how they can better work with companies on their meetings; for the planners, it’s a chance to hear about the challenges their peers are facing and share ideas for managing them.

Jamie Kerr, account director at Team One, Ritz-Carlton’s advertising agency, moderated this year’s discussion. Broad trends included:

1. Changes in companies’ organizational or operational structure (that is, leadership changes, corporate changes, and/or changes in planners’ responsibilities)

2. Continuing effects on budgets from the slow economic recovery continue, but incentives are back

3. Increases in internal expectations, and doing more with smaller staffs

“When there is a change in management, we need to reeducate them and prove our value and worth,” said one planner in attendance. Another pointed out that when the management moves are internal, it’s less of an issue because “they know you.” Still, a third said that planners “are constantly challenged with showing value. Our company has been committed to incentives throughout the recessions, but budgets are still tight. Our hotel relationships are critical.”

Christine Judson, Hotel Arts Barcelona (left) and Michelle Johnston, CMP, Assurex Global

AV and Wi-Fi

The rising cost of audiovisual services was a concern for planners working with flat budgets. One said he has begun using an outside AVcompany in response to steep in-house pricing at some meeting hotels. One planner had a positive venue experience that she would like to replicate: her connectivity needs were extensively reviewed and extra routers were installed to accommodate her, while a full-time Internet connectivity consultant was assigned to her group. “The first thing I do on a site inspection now is turn on my devices to see how the connection is,” she added. “If it is not working, that’s already a negative.”

Resorts need to pay as much attention to this issue as do business-oriented properties, noted one planner. “Understand that connectivity is still important for incentives,” she said. “We do four hours of business meetings per day.” A hotel executive mentioned a statistic showing that business travelers carry upwards of four devices—then a planner added that when qualifiers’ spouses and kids bring all their devices, too, you could have 10 devices in one guestroom.

From the hotel side, things are changing so rapidly that a property built only three years ago may already have to reinvest in its Internet infrastructure. When a hotel is built today, companies must anticipate what the current move to mobile will mean in the future in terms of bandwidth, cellular, and wireless requirements.